We must re­duce in­fant mor­tal­ity rates

Daily Trust - - OPINION -

Last week, con­sul­tant pe­di­a­tri­cian Dr Efunbo Dosekun raised the alarm that up to seven hun­dred new­born ba­bies die in this coun­try ev­ery day. Dosekun, who spoke in La­gos, blamed the sit­u­a­tion on lack of in­cu­ba­tors in hos­pi­tals, among other causes. She said only a few health cen­tres in the coun­try have func­tional in­cu­ba­tors. She also iden­ti­fied the short­age of in­fra­struc­ture, in­ad­e­quate num­ber of skilled birth at­ten­dants as well as poor plan­ning and im­ple­men­ta­tion of ma­ter­nal health pro­grams by gov­ern­ment and stake­hold­ers as other con­trib­u­tory fac­tors to the high in­fant mor­tal­ity rate.

Ac­cord­ing to Dosekun, Nige­ria’s health care sys­tem is weak with re­spect to the pro­vi­sion of emer­gency care. A re­port by UNICEF also noted that ev­ery sin­gle day, Nige­ria loses about 2,300 un­der-five year olds and 145 women of child­bear­ing age.This makes the coun­try the sec­ond largest con­trib­u­tor to the un­der-five and ma­ter­nal mor­tal­ity rate in the world. For a long time now, the gov­ern­ment has been or claimed to be fight­ing ma­ter­nal and in­fant mor­tal­ity, with some states even pro­vid­ing free health care ser­vices to preg­nant women and chil­dren be­low the age of 5. We would there­fore have ex­pected that by now, the death of in­fants would have been re­duced to the barest min­i­mum in this coun­try, but the sta­tis­tics prove oth­er­wise.

Fig­ures show that we are still far from achiev­ing that goal. What avail­able fig­ures show is that stake­hold­ers are ei­ther not sin­cere about the fight against in­fant mor­tal­ity or that the ap­proach is not right and that there is need for a re­view. For in­stance, there ought to be spe­cial hos­pi­tals prop­erly equipped to han­dle chil­dren’s cases. Qual­i­fied pe­di­a­tri­cians should also be at hand to han­dle their cases. Most dev­as­tat­ing is the knowl­edge that es­sen­tial in­ter­ven­tions reach­ing women and ba­bies on time would have averted most of the deaths. How can a na­tion that is se­ri­ous about the fight against in­fant mor­tal­ity lack ba­sic fa­cil­i­ties such as in­cu­ba­tors? Even where there are in­cu­ba­tors, there is no of­ten no elec­tric­ity sup­ply to power them.

There is also the is­sue of trained per­son­nel to op­er­ate the equip­ment. The high rate of in­fant mor­tal­ity is only one proof of the prob­lems in the na­tion’s health sec­tor. All across the coun­try you hear la­men­ta­tions of poor healthcare ser­vices.Where there are drugs, there will be in­ad­e­quate doc­tors and where there are doc­tors, there are no drugs. In some in­stances peo­ple have to travel for long dis­tances to ac­cess med­i­cal care. Most pa­thetic is the case of ru­ral ar­eas where some health care cen­tres have no med­i­cal per­son­nel or are manned by only nurses. In the event of an emer­gency, the pa­tient will have to travel to a nearby vil­lage or wait for a doc­tor who may not ar­rive un­til dam­age has been done.

Most hos­pi­tals do not have am­bu­lances for emer­gency sit­u­a­tions while in some gen­eral hos­pi­tals, beds are lack­ing. There have been many sem­i­nars and work­shops on ‘‘work­ing to en­sure a healthy na­tion’’ but the sit­u­a­tion in our health care cen­tres shows that stake­hold­ers are not match­ing words with ac­tion. No se­ri­ous na­tion should toy with the health of its pop­u­lace. The gov­ern­ment came up with the Na­tional Health In­sur­ance Scheme, which was a laud­able pro­ject, but how ef­fec­tive is the ser­vice ren­dered? Are the providers mon­i­tored to en­sure that they carry out their man­date ap­pro­pri­ately? And most im­por­tantly, only a frac­tion of the pop­u­la­tion is cap­tured by the scheme. Many peo­ple in ru­ral ar­eas are not cap­tured in the scheme and they are the ones that need it more.

Re­tirees, some of whom have not even been paid their ben­e­fits of­ten lament over their in­abil­ity to ac­cess health care. If the gov­ern­ment is se­ri­ous about guar­an­tee­ing a healthy na­tion, ef­forts must be made to en­sure that the poor and vul­ner­a­ble have ac­cess to med­i­cal care. The health in­sur­ance scheme should be re­viewed to cover all ill­nesses, as the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion where some ill­nesses are not cov­ered defeats the pur­pose for which it was in­sti­tuted. Ef­forts should be made to en­sure that all health care cen­ters have ad­e­quately trained per­son­nel who should be prop­erly re­mu­ner­ated.

Last year, health work­ers’ unions went on strike for sev­eral months, dur­ing which pe­riod many peo­ple lost their lives as they did not have the where­withal to pa­tro­n­ise pri­vate hos­pi­tals. Stake­hold­ers must work hard to en­sure that such sit­u­a­tions are dis­cour­aged. Fur­nish­ing health care cen­tres with equip­ment, con­sum­ables and per­son­nel should be a pri­or­ity of gov­ern­ment at all lev­els.

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